Area's stone bridges played a role in commerce

May 14, 2004|by RICHARD BELISLE

Back when America was young, the area around Franklin County, Pa., and Washington County was known as the nation's breadbasket because of the amount of wheat it grew and processed.

Paula Stoner Reed, a historical architect from Hagerstown, said Pennsylvania was the largest flour-producing state in the nation in 1810, followed by Virginia and Maryland. The port in Baltimore was considered the grain capital of the country in those days. About 20 percent of the flour it shipped came from Washington County, she said.

There were 64 flour mills in Washington County in 1831. The rule of thumb was "a mill a mile," she said. They sprung up along the Conococheague and Antietam creeks in Washington and Franklin counties.


Transportation was key to the industry. Since water was used to power the mills, the bridges that were built near them became an integral part of the area's transportation network.

Reed included the information in a talk Thursday to members of the Allison-Antrim Museum in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Greencastle.

Her main topic was the stone arch bridges in Washington and Franklin counties.

At one time, each county had 25 to 30 bridges. Washington County has 23 left, 22 of which are still in use.

Reed said she wasn't sure how many are left or still being used in Franklin County.

The Pennsylvania Department of Highways had several Franklin County bridges, including Welty's Mills Bridge on Welty Road near Waynesboro and the stone arch bridge on Social Island Road, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, she said.

Reed, who owns Paula Reed and Associates, consults and does research for developers, individuals and local, state and federal agencies. She has a Ph.D in American studies.

Most of the bridges in the two counties were built between 1820 and 1860 with the 1830s and 1840s the most active construction period, she said.

The area's geology, with its abundance of limestone, an excellent building material for homes, barns and bridges, lent itself to stone arch bridge construction, she said.

A half-dozen stone craftsmen built most of the bridges in the two counties, Reed said.

Among them were James Lloyd, John Weaver, Silas Harry, Charles L. Wilson and David S. Stoner, an ancestor of Reed's.

She said official land records provide good information on many Washington County bridges.

For example:

  • Wilson's Bridge over the Conococheague, a five-arch span west of Hagerstown, was built by Silas Harry in 1819 at a cost of $9,100, Reed said.

  • Harry also built the Roxbury Bridge over the Antietam Creek in 1824 and the Hitt Bridge, also over the Antietam near the Antietam National Battlefield, in 1830, she said.

  • John Weaver built the now famous Burnside's Bridge over the Antietam Creek at the battlefield in 1836 for $2,300, the land records showed.

  • David Stoner built Welty's Mill Bridge in 1856, she said.

It was last used in 1988 when a modern bridge over the East Branch of the Antietam Creek replaced it. Welty's Mill Bridge is owned by the Waynesboro Historical Society today.

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